Alice left Wonderland the way she always did. She fell asleep and began to dream of home, and of her sister who would be waiting.
“Wake up, miss!”
“Oh! You’re not Lorina.” She sat up on a bench, once again in the familiar hall somewhere beneath the rabbit hole. Something had gone horribly wrong. She always woke to find herself back at home.
A fish wearing a blue uniform and a golden badge twisted its head to the side and fixed one large black eye on her. “What do you think you are doing?”
“I’m sorry, but what do you mean? I was asleep.”
He shook his head. She stifled a giggle when the movement caused his blubbery lips to waggle. “Dreaming your way out of things will hardly do.” He pointed to a black satchel beside her on the bench. “Is that your bag?”
“I… well yes, it is,” Alice said.
The fish-agent scooped up the bag and grabbed her by the arm. “You need to come with me.”
“But why?” she asked. “I was only trying to go home.”
He pulled her through the hall and ushered her past a line of people and animals waiting under a sign that read: “Rabbit Hole Transit Authority.” A duck was arguing with an agent behind a desk about the contents of its suitcase. She clutched her own satchel tightly.
They stopped abruptly and Alice, who was still watching the commotion at the desk, spun her head around and found herself facing a door that hadn’t been there a moment before. The fish-agent knocked.
“Who’s there?” croaked a voice from behind the door.
“Quit fooling around, frog. I caught another one trying to dream her way past customs.”
The door opened on squeaky hinges and a frog dressed in a matching uniform stood in front of Alice with large eyes that protruded from either side of a black-rimmed cap. “I say,” he said, “a fish that catches, instead of getting caught.”
She wasn’t able to stop herself this time, and a brief giggle escaped her. The fish-agent flopped his head around and began to chastise her, to which she offered an embarrassed apology. He escorted her to a lone table and folding metal chair. Once she was seated he leaned lazily against the wall behind her.
The frog-agent followed them and placed her bag on the table.
“I’m sorry, can you please tell me why you’ve brought me here?” she asked.
“You were trying to exit without declaring at customs first,” the frog-agent answered.
“But I fell asleep, and I expected that I’d wake at home. I didn’t mean to break any rules.”
They both ignored her. The fish-agent began pulling things from her bag, proclaiming each item in a warbled voice as he did.
“One half-eaten cake,” he said before sniffing it. Though Alice wasn’t sure what he might smell, all she could smell was fish. “Is this a shrinking cake?” he asked her.
“Growing, rather,” she replied politely.
“Two potions—also growing?”
Alice shook her head. “No, sir, you have it all backwards, those are for shrinking.”
The frog-agent had produced a clipboard from thin air and he scribbled notes while croaking back each entry in reply.
“And this?” The fish-agent produced a single gold key. “It looks an awful lot like the key that went missing from the table in the hall sometime ago.”
She nervously kicked at her own heel under the table. “Oh. I wouldn’t know about that.”
The last item was pulled from the bag: a large tin with no label. “And this?” he asked, looking the tin over. He tossed it to his partner who turned it in his hands and tapped on the lid, testing to make sure that it was sealed. Finally he gave it a sniff. “Treacle,” he stated.
“Yes,” said Alice, nodding her head. “Treacle, for my mother, she does love it so!”
“In tarts?” the fish-agent asked.
“Yes. Her favourite,” answered Alice.
“On toast?” the frog-agent asked.
“Indeed,” said Alice, “of course on toast.”
He stepped toward her and slammed the tin onto the table, causing her to jump from her seat with a squeal. “Do you know what else treacle is good for?” he yelled.
“No, I don’t think that I do,” said a tearful Alice.
“Smuggling mushrooms,” he said. “Are you trying to smuggle mushrooms?”
“No, that’s horrible,” she said with quiver in her voice. “I would never try doing anything of the sort. Not ever.”
The fish-agent brought a can opener out from his belt and threw it onto the table. He stared at her with one of his unblinking eyes as he did. “I’m going to give you one last chance to come clean, miss.”
She looked back and forth between her two accusers, unsure of what to do.
But before she could decide, the door to the room burst open and two more agents came in dragging the white rabbit between them. “We need some help here! This rabbit is strung right out.”
The agent had barely finished speaking when the rabbit pelted him in the face with a furry hind leg.
“Oh, Rabbit!” she wailed. “What have you done?”
Rabbit said nothing, but continued to struggle.
The other agents joined the fray. “Watch his teeth!” the fish-agent cried. “He’s gnashing—he’s gnashing!”
One of the agents holding Rabbit went down clutching a bloody cheek. Alice started cramming her belongings back in the satchel: the half-eaten muffin, the key, and the tin. She couldn’t leave without the tin. She grabbed it with both hands from across the table and pulled it to her.
“Hey!” the fish-agent shouted from the floor where he wrestled with Rabbit. “She’s going to run!”
“Help me, Alice,” Rabbit pleaded. “I can’t be late!”
But it was too late for Rabbit. They had him pinned down on the floor, one hind leg still thrashing about madly. She ran for the door, but the frog-agent let go of a paw and blocked her path.
“Oh no you don’t, missy.”
She backed away and used the chair to step up onto the table.
“Get down from there,” he ordered.
“Get the tin from her,” shouted the fish-agent, who had Rabbit by an ear until another vicious kick caught him in the gills.
The room exploded into a blur of white fur and blue uniforms. Alice jumped down from the table-top and crawled underneath. She needed to get back home before they took the tin, or the whole trip would be for nothing. She’d have to give up her share.
She placed the tin on the floor, and pulled the metal tab on the lid with her finger. The seal broke with a hiss of sticky sweet air.
“Where did the girl go?” one of them shouted.
“I’ve been gnashed!” an agent hollered in pain as Rabbit scuttled under the table to join her.
“We have to go!” Rabbit said.
She stuck her arm into the tin until it was almost up to her elbow and began pulling out mushrooms of every size and color from the treacle. Finally her hand came back out clutching a blackened cap twice the size of her fist, and dark amber goo drizzled down her arm as she took one mouthful, and then another. It seemed to Alice, that with each bite, more of the colours around her began to fade away. All of the blue in the agent’s uniforms began to seep out leaving them a sickly brown.
“No Alice, please. Don’t leave me,” Rabbit said as he wrapped himself around her leg. She chewed as fast as she could, watching as the red in her friend’s eye disappeared, leaving a tiny black pupil in a sea of white.
The agents were on their hands and knees groping for them. The frog-agent found Rabbit’s leg and began to pull. Two more bites, and his green skin became a mottled gray.
Alice kicked at Rabbit until he let go, and with one last shove of her heel, pushed him into the grasping hands of the agent. “I’m sorry,” she sputtered between mouthfuls of mushroom and treacle. The goo lost its golden hue and now looked like black sludge, but she forced herself to swallow it down.
It was almost gone but she couldn’t stop, not until she was all the way home. She ate the last of the mushroom in two large bites, choking as she swallowed. The few remaining murky grays and browns fell away, leaving Rabbit and the agents a white blur on a field of black that shrank until they were only tiny dots lost in the darkness.
She woke up in the alley behind River Street and raised her head off the pavement.
“You’re late,” a voice said from the shadows.
She got to her feet and swayed for a moment as her head caught up to the rest of her body. “We… we ran into some trouble.”
A playing card silhouette stepped out from behind a dumpster, she couldn’t tell which one it might be, but guessed it was most likely a knave. “Do you have them?”
The tin was still in her arms. “Most of them. I had to eat one to get out. I might have dropped a couple, I’m not really sure.”
“The Queen isn’t going to be happy.”
She threw the tin at his feet and sent treacle splashing all over the ground. “Did you hear me? I almost didn’t make it out this time! The dreadful Rabbit Hole Transit Authority was all over us. It was horrible,” she wailed.
“Save the doe-eyed little girl act for the agents,” he said.
“Oh bother,” she replied with smirk. “Oh, and by the way, they got the rabbit, so don’t expect his half of the shipment.”
The card swore. It was definitely a knave. “You know she is going to want someone’s head for this.”
“Probably yours,” she shot back. “Enjoy trying to explain to her majesty that they are onto the treacle trick. Either way, it’s not my problem.”
Alice slipped the white pinafore over her head and crumpled it into a ball before tossing it into the dumpster. “I’m never going back.”
BIO: Hamilton Kohl spends his days writing on his lunch hour from the shadows of his office cubicle. At night, and most weekends, he commutes home via the rabbit hole to spend time with his wife and children where they live just outside of Toronto, Canada. His work has appeared in The Arcanist and is upcoming in Mad Scientist Journal. You can find him on twitter @Hamilton_Kohl.